Of the many hats I’ve gotten to wear since coming to Haiti over two years ago, the one identifying me as PE instructor is definitely one of my favorites. It has led to immense growth in creativity and new methods of connecting to some of the most amazing students out there. We have been working on our basketball unit for a bit now, and going into it, I knew that we were in need of basketball goals. Planning with Claude (our school guardian) and Mèt Leny (our director/principal), we discussed different options.
One option was to order them from a company in Port-au-Prince. This was unanimously shot down, as Haiti’s capital city continues to be under near constant strain and strife due to political insecurity. Our other top option was to build our own goals, using a local metal worker and our own creativity. On a really positive note, sourcing locally meant work for people in our own community. Claude contacted a trusted metal worker, with whom we discussed different options. His working realities and my hopes for goals with adjustable baskets met in the middle. He ended up welding a small goal for the kids in the lower grades and a taller one for our bigger kids.
With the goals done, the next step was getting them to stand. Close to my street, a group of men play streetball regularly. Taking the idea from them, I asked Leny and Claude if it would be doable to plant the goals in tires and cement. Claude gently smiled as he said he could definitely do it, as long as I helped. The three of us looked at each other and chuckled, “Men wi, Claude,” I offered. Of course. I wouldn’t leave all the fun for him! Our go-to handyman for the Religious of Jesus and Mary Sisters, Barak, searched for and delivered two matching tires and a bag of cement.
After my morning class with third grade, Claude and I set to work with the help of one of our awesome school aides and Mèt Leny (in his business uniform no less!).
It still comes as a surprise to many that I can easily outlift most of the people I know and work with here. Invariably, I get mixed looks of disbelief and surprise — and some jests back and forth. Make no mistake, the strength of Haitian women is undeniable, and it amazes me every day what they make look so effortless. Mine just happens to be a different type of strong.
I couldn’t help but chuckle when the sixth graders, who had been intently following Met Kenson’s (their fantastic teacher) lesson, gaped through the screen as I hoisted one goal over my shoulder, and carried it with one arm to our “construction zone,” then the bigger goal, and ultimately the almost 100-pound bag of cement. The latter turned a few adult heads too. Which I was grateful for, honestly — that thing seemed heavier because of its awkwardness, and the stares gave me extra motivation not to drop it. The three men laughed and shook their heads when I deposited the bag with a deep sigh.
This project had me reflecting and appreciating the limits we all have. I was happy to get to do the literal “heavy lifting,” as Leny was in his business clothes and Claude is decently into his older years. It was especially true since my next job was so little, because of my lack of knowledge and experience in construction. I would have been at a loss if they handed me a shovel, sand/rocks, and water and asked me to mix the cement. However, the other three knew exactly what to do. You see, most Haitian men know at least a little bit about a lot of different things, construction included. Many of them have already helped construct someone’s house/building at some point in time. Their versatile knowledge is impressive and has come in handy more times than I could count.
So I got to hold the taller goal post in place with our aide while Claude shoveled the cement mix into the tire, and Leny made sure it spread evenly. Between the four of us, it didn’t take too long to get everything in place. The three of them then discussed strategies to secure the pole in place while the cement dried. Again, I would not have thought of the same solution, and probably would have over-complicated it by doing too much.
Their solution was simple, prop two desks against one another, with the pole in the middle, and secure the pole to the fence with some string. Simple, smart, and effective.
We took a short pause for lunch before tackling the smaller of the posts. We used our soccer goals as a barricade to keep curious eyes and hands away from drying cement. It was pretty great seeing the kids’ excitement for the goals going up, and answer 100 questions about one of the sports I love. When I came out of the office, Claude and Leny had already gotten most of the work done. It was my turn to smile and shake my head.
I got to help make sure the mix spread evenly this time. In trying to move out of Claude’s way at one point, I smacked my head on the rim. Both men fussed over me for a solid five minutes, had me sit down to finish the work, and kept commenting about how I “need to be more careful” and I “do stuff like that too often.” It took so much of me not to just chuckle as I held the sore spot on my head while spreading the cement. I love how much care exists at that school, it is such a huge gift of this ministry. I’m sure our kids were thoroughly entertained too at the sight of two well respected men making a fuss over the giant white girl, who is in fact known for her klutziness (sorry, Mom and Dad!).
At any rate, when it came to the finishing touches, I smoothed out the surface on top of the base. Claude was impressed and said “Abby’s a boss now!” In this context, “boss” is the word used for a professional in some field. For example, Boss Fritzneil is the well-known and respected head of construction for a lot of places and houses. Claude was jesting, of course, no one would entrust their house construction to me (thank God!). It was just his way of complimenting me.
So, if you ever find yourself in need of a DIY basketball goal base, I’m your girl! In all seriousness, I cannot thank our amazing donors enough for their contributions to my students’ exploration and play. It means the world to me to get to see them discover things in our world.
Whatever hats you get to wear, I hope you can wear them well, that they make you happy, and if you haven’t already, you’re finding all the little things that give you great joy and love and laughter. From my students, coworkers, and myself, we thank you for your continued support, whatever that gets to look like!
Peace and Agape,